The store policy says it all: Once Upon a Child will buy back your purchases when your kids outgrow them, a touch that makes a trip to Fort Collins worth the drive. Bargain-hunters will find everything they need here: slightly used V-Tech toys, cute stuffed animals, strollers, cribs, bassinets, bath toys, new overstuffed rocking chairs and a huge inventory of used clothing, both high- and low-end and befitting any season or occasion. Throw in a staff that obviously enjoys and knows the minds of children, and you'll be in a good enough mood to endure the ride home.

Unlike most gas-station car washes, Puddle actually gets cars clean. Pull up and select the basic wash, or "water works," which includes a car wash, vacuum, dashboard dusting and window-cleaning for $9.99. Then watch, through windows inside the store, as your car rides through the automatic process before being hand-dried. And if it's not to your liking, they'll send it back through. For $13.99, you can upgrade to the "dew drop," which adds a liquid wax to the package; for $16.99, "big thunder" will do it all plus wash under the car, Armor All the tires, clean the rims and leave a fresh scent in your car. Puddle also has a detail shop where you can select everything from getting your floor mats washed (75 cents each for rubber mats and $2.00 each for cloth) to getting your seats shampooed. Most important, the service is quick, the people who work there are friendly, and you can cruise in sparkling style.

Local seamstress Marcel Antoinette has been sewing for 25 years, but started her handmade children's line eight years ago when she had a daughter. One thing led to another: She'd dress the little one in clothes she'd made, people would ask, and soon she was in business. Antoinette works and sells the clothes -- simple, well-sewn garments of patchworked African print fabrics in bright and sometimes metallic colors (some imported from Senegal and the Ivory Coast) -- out of a Park Hill storefront, and she has a Web site in the works, but she doesn't want to expand too quickly for the sake of quality, the kind that's helped her bag awards for best children's clothes at the Capitol Hill People's Fair for two years running. "The majority of it is poor old me," she says (on a quick break from cutting new pieces), and that's the way her customers like it. And so do we.

Janet Banks hated her job as a graphic designer and longed for something simpler. One day, she opened up a book about wooden toys and hasn't been the same since. Though she remembered her grandfather making such toys when she was little, Banks had no woodworking experience, so she taught herself and recently quit her hated job to concentrate on building toys for her Sweet Lily's Toy Company. And what does she build? Wooden jack-in-the-boxes with latch tops that flip open, yo-yos composed of a single disc and dowel and painted bright colors, wooden puzzles and an Advent tree with 24 ornaments to attach each day until Christmas. She's pretty busy playing, but catch her if you can at local festivals or log on to her Web site, www.sweetlily.com.

Things are cooking at Sur la Table, and not just for you. This kitchenware, cookbook and gadget place caters to kids by carrying mini cooking and baking sets that look just like the grownup versions, dinosaur cookie cutters, clever rookie chopsticks, Mickey Mouse cookbooks, froggy aprons and tiny double-breasted chef's coats for gourmets-in-training. The crowning touch? A classic chef's chapeau, scaled down to size. Let's eat!

Dolls, with their staring eyes and stiff, painted-on features, have a creepy reputation with almost everyone except kids and collectors. But one way to get over it is to make one yourself. Next time you need a nice eyeball, drop by the Doll House. Doll lady Rose Rismanchi stocks everything you need to build a cutie three-foot-two with eyes of blue, from custom clothing to curly locks, in her showroom full of doe-eyed dollies, dressed down in overalls and straw hats or to the nines in lacy pinafores and stockings. Be sure to sign up for classes, offered at various times daily except Sundays, where you'll learn to hand-pour your baby doll's bod in a mold, attach her head and give her a beautiful smile that will help you get over the creeps.

Adorable and little enough to fit in your hand, this human take on the sock monkey (now overtaken by a whole cottage industry of sock moose and hippos and God-knows-whats) harks back to the days when toys were simpler and sweeter. No one's going to gasp in awe when they see one of Marcia's Kids, but they're something anyone -- from a newborn to a grandma -- would be happy to grasp. Give 'em a hand.
Mountain-dweller Susan Lee Danaher makes her five-inch sweeties, named Konvalinka after the Slovak word for lily of the valley, from scratch: The tiny, delicate fairies are hand-poured and -painted before being festooned with ribbons, flowers, lace and angels and, sometimes, Danaher admits, tiny tattoos. They come in hues inspired by the colors of wildflowers and other garden denizens.

Tended Thicket
These tiny felt dolls, which come in a rainbow of pastel shades, are barely there, but they're perfect to tie on a bouquet or poke into a basket. You can buy the entire ensemble at the Tended Thicket, an agreeable flower and gift shop that starts in a nook and turns into a cranny and specializes in magnificent floral arrangements. They also sell flower-fairy cards and gift tags.

They're he-e-e-e-re.

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